[Nightstream Review] 'Boys from County Hell' is a Biting Vampire Film that Spills Plenty of Blood and Laughs
Let’s be honest. Like them or not, films such as Interview with the Vampire and the Twilight franchise briefly de-fanged vampires…
…We had gone from the gothic monsters of Bram Stoker’s novel and the vicious creatures of Stephen King’s Salem Lot, to mopey vamps crying tears of blood over immortal life and glittering in the sun.
Okay, not really. I love Interview with the Vampire. But while vampires ruminating on the consequences of immortality can be a moving experience, nothing beats a good old fashioned, bloody as hell vampire story that treats the creatures exactly as they are: monsters. And that’s what we get from writer/director Chris Baugh’s vampire comedy, Boys from County Hell, which recently made its North American Premiere at Nightstream.
Boys from County Hell takes place in a small Irish town, surrounded by lush, green hills and an overwhelming sense of boredom for its residents. Eugene (Jack Rowan) and friends spend all of their time drinking, thinking about life elsewhere, and drinking some more. But when Eugene accidentally awakens an ancient vampire legend named Abhartach (Robert Nairne) buried beneath the town, the creature threatens to turn the entire countryside red, and only Eugene and his friends can stop it.
Baugh sets the stage early with County Hell, assuring the audience that this film is most definitely not Twilight. In the opening minutes, we watch as a poor old Irish couple sits in front of the TV, and suddenly has the blood pulled from their orifices. Yes, pulled. Blood pours from their nose, eyes, ears, whatever orifice it can, drawn to an unseen source just outside. Imagine that: a vampire that can drain your blood from over a hundred feet away, without even biting you! It’s a nifty idea and a unique touch to the genre, declaring that you are in for something ferocious.
The film then takes us back months earlier to introduce Eugene, who is tired of life in his hometown and working for his stony dad, Francie (Nigel O’Neill). Through a prank pulled by Eugene and his friends on tourists, we learn the history of the town and how it’s the place where the very first vampire was killed, buried under a pile of rocks not touched in centuries. So it makes sense that the town abounds in vampire references, such as what is now my new favorite bar, The Stoker, adorned with pictures of Dracula, cobwebs, and gothic stone walls. It’s here where Eugene, best friend William (Fra Fee), William’s girlfriend Claire (Louisa Harland) and SP (Michael Hough), spend their days drowning themselves in alcohol, much like vampires and blood, trapped in their own coffin of a town and a life, where Alcohol is the lifeblood of all.
Rowan is incredibly sympathetic as Eugene. At first glance, you might think the character is your typical horror comedy drunk loser with zero aspiration ala Shaun in Shaun of the Dead, but he’s not. He is literary-challenged, having never even read Dracula (or anything, really), despite knowing so much about Stoker, but he’s also driven, and sick of others thinking he isn’t capable, which leads to the town’s horror when Francie’s company needs to tear down the sacred burial site and, spurred by comments that he “can’t cut it” in this life, Eugene does it himself, setting Abhartach free.
Spite. It will get you every time.
There’s a sadness to Rowan, and it’s a sadness that permeates throughout the entire film. Boys from County Hell is a horror “comedy”, but the laughs come mostly from the circumstances than they do any actual “jokes”. The horror in County Hell is, for the most part, played completely straight. Other than the casual Dracula reference here and there, Baugh knows better than to constantly wink at the camera with the humor. Our actors take the horror seriously, reacting with frantic frustration and fear the way any of us would when faced with a monster we could not kill.
Through firsthand antics, our heroes learn that the vamps in County Hell are extremely difficult to kill, resulting in one long sequence of Eugene and others attempting to stop someone who has been turned, hilarious in the exhaustiveness of the effort. The vamps here are like cockroaches. Stakes to the heart? Doesn’t work. Decapitation? Doesn’t work. Sunlight…well, you’ll just have to see. The impossibility of the situation is what leads to the humor, because there is simply nothing these characters can do but try to survive.
Taking a cue from 30 Days of Night, Baugh’s vampires are as vicious as they come. The vampires of County Hell don’t speak through blood soaked mouths or commiserate their existence. They growl. They rip. They tear. And the eventual reveal of Abhartach exposes something that is anything but human.
Ultimately, Boys from County Hell is the sort of horror comedy that’s lighter on the comedy than it is the horror. Like the aforementioned Shaun of the Dead, County Hell unexpectedly sinks its fangs into viewers and drains us emotionally. This film is full of likeable characters, so when any of them meets an end, it hurts. It hurts bad. And it further emphasizes the moral following Eugene throughout, which is that your hometown may not always feel exciting, but it’s home. Just as your family is home, and your friends are home.
If you’re sick of cutesy vampires and you’re looking for a fun resurrection of the blood-sucking monsters we use to fear, look no further than Boys from County Hell. Just prepare to feel emotionally drained by the bloody finish.
By Matt Konopka